by Paolo Petroni
President of Italian Academy of Cuisine
Carlo Cracco’s decision reopens the question.
The cook must remain in the kitchen: this was always the rule; the dining room was the domain of the maître d’hôtel and the waiters, while the owner manned the register, chatting to the guests. Frequently nobody knew who was behind the kitchen door - until nouvelle cuisine, headed by Paul Bocuse, changed the rules. An omnipresent chef: in the kitchen, in the dining hall, in the newspapers, a true star of the restaurant and the gourmet world. It is said that a truly competent cook must have a crew who can function without him, perhaps guided by an able second-in-command. The ‘master’ can therefore travel the world, open additional restaurants, give interviews, and these days even preside over talk shows. Obviously this only occurs for a few prominent names, but they are the ones that count, that make the news. And the news is that Carlo Cracco, handsome, sexy and Byronically fascinating, is leaving his primadonna post at MasterChef to return to the kitchen and above all to his restaurants, which truly are ‘leavening’ nicely. In addition to his “Cracco” restaurant, he’ll have to handle the bistro “Carlo e Camilla in Segheria” and the restaurant in “Garage Italia Customs”, a former petrol station in Piazzale Accursio in Milan, remodelled by the architect Michele De Lucchi and transformed into a custom automotive restyling workshop by Lapo Elkann, grandson of the FIAT tycoon Gianni Agnelli. But the greatest challenge begins in autumn with a new three-storey concept in the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan: over 1000 square metres and, it is rumoured, almost 100,000 Euros in monthly rent. Good luck! A few hours after Cracco’s television retirement announcement, his colleague on the show, the Italian-American Joe Bastianich (famous for his business acumen), declares that “we’re friends, we work together, but we have different opinions: Carlo Cracco is conceited”. And he adds: “The king is dead: long live the king”. Such class! Besides such skirmishes whose sole purpose is perhaps to foment notoriety, there is still the problem of the cook in the kitchen. Other greats have remained there: Heinz Beck, Enrico Crippa, Nadia Santini, Enrico Bartolini and many more. A now-forgotten luminary, Angelo Paracucchi of Ameglia, once attempted this feat first in Paris and then in Korea: he exhausted himself with world travel and endless chitchat. Annie Feolde and Giorgio Pinchiorri were forever wandering between Florence, Japan and Dubai: a lifestyle to gruelling for many. But let’s be honest: for a truly devoted gourmet, going to restaurants isn’t merely about eating, but about the experience of interacting warmly with someone who represents the soul of the venue. Going to a restaurant without its chef is like visiting friends for dinner and finding excellent victuals but not the host. Though admittedly we can’t turn back time, and we can acknowledge that today’s star chef is often a brand, a veritable business with many collaborators and hence many problems and worries unrelated to the kitchen (which itself requires so much dedication and effort), we must draw the line somewhere. The victor, though, is the entire Italian culinary establishment: great chefs, great personalities, each having their (many) qualities and (few) flaws, each with their own distinctive philosophies of life, who collectively have made and are making our cuisine superlative. Then we can all choose where to go: where the chef is in the kitchen, or where a legend resides.